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NightWatch 20110809


For the Night of 9 August 2011

Vietnam-China: In response to a Xinhua report stating that China conducted a scientific survey on the research vessel Tan Bao Hao in the South China Sea, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry met Chinese diplomats to protest the violation of Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdictional rights and to demand China immediately cease and desist from such activities, according to Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Nguyen Phuong Nga on 9 August.

Comment: Last week, Vietnam protested in diplomatic channels Chinese exploration in the South China Sea between 13 June and 30 July. Apparently the Vietnamese, and perhaps other Association of Southeast Asian Nations members, finally understand that national security policy is not the domain of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

In every communist state system, and especially in China and North Korea, the professional diplomats are not informed about national security details except as they need a few for credibility. Their job is to lie for and cover for the Defense and other security Ministries. As a basis for predicting Chinese diplomatic behavior, Readers should keep handy Lenin's pamphlets.

The obvious distance between Chinese naval and maritime behavior and its diplomatic reassurances does not signify a policy split. Rather it represents a differentiation of bureaucratic tasks in support of the same goal: Chinese dominance of Asia with reclamation and restoration of the Chinese imperial patrimony.

Vietnam-India: Comment: In late June, Vietnamese and Indian naval senior officers met to discuss maritime security in the South China Sea. During the visit Vietnamese Vice Admiral Hien offered Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Verma, base rights to the port of Nha Trang. Verma accepted in principle.

The terms of the offer have not been reported in detail, but one news service reported the Indians counter-offered the new Brahmos supersonic anti-ship missile to the Vietnamese navy; the Prithvi short-range ballistic missile which can also be used on ships; plus maintenance support to Vietnam's Soviet-supplied naval ships. India already is providing training to the Vietnamese navy.

Subsequently, the INS Airavat, an amphibious landing ship built in Calcutta, made a port call at Nha Trang between 20 and 30 July. In October 2010, Vietnam offered the Indians access to maintenance and repair facilities and invited more port calls. In 2011, Indian Navy ships have made calls at South Chinese Sea ports and Japan almost monthly since March.

For the record. Nha Trang was the base from which a Vietnamese Supreme Commander led a fleet that defeated a Chinese Yuan dynasty fleet in 1288.

Vietnam's offer appears tailored to appeal to the new Indian Naval mantra:

China rejects that the Indian Ocean is Indian. India rejects that the South China Sea is Chinese.

The Indian Chief of Naval Staff's acceptance of the Vietnamese offer sent Chinese national security pundits into spasms of dismissal. One expert wrote that India will never base ships at Nha Trang because it would be too expensive and India lacks the ability to extend naval power east. The Chinese national security expert accused India and Vietnam of bluffing.

India: Navy. The Calcutta Telegraph reported on 8 August that the government has asked all ports in the east coast, except Visakhapatnam, to give priority to the Indian Navy because a sharp rise in the number of warships is leading to congestion and slowing down operational turnaround. Visakhapatnam is the main base for the Eastern Naval Command.

Comment: According to the Telegraph report the government has decided to strengthen the Eastern Naval Command in reaction to Chinese meddling in the Indian Ocean, including port construction in Burma and in southern Sri Lanka.

As a result the Navy has raised the rank of senior positions in the east and increased its priority for new ship assignments. In the past 5 years the Command has received 14 ships, including five Rajput-class guided missile destroyers that had been assigned to the Western Naval Command at Mumbai. The new additions include the amphibious assault ship, INS Jalashwa, purchased from the US Navy, which is the second largest ship in the Indian Navy, after the aircraft carrier INS Viraat.

India's new indigenously constructed stealth frigates, under construction at Mumbai, will be assigned to the Eastern Naval command. The Navy is scouting at least three new locations for bases in India and seems to welcome the Vietnamese offer of port facilities.

The Indian Navy is unlikely to base ships in Vietnam, but access to a friendly port will increase the frequency of port calls to the South China Sea as well as to Japan and South Korea. India is determined to contain the Chinese in South Asian oceans and and is taking the challenge to East and Southeast Asian seas. Indian Navy ships will be frequent callers in Vietnamese ports.

Syria: Defense Minister General Ali Habib Mahmoud was found dead at his home, a day after his replacement for health reasons. Oddly, on the day of Mahmoud's death, Syrian TV broadcast a video and audio statement in which Mahmoud said, "My health condition prevented me from continuing my work; I was admitted to a hospital for several days to receive treatment."

Comment: Syrian authorities claim he died of natural causes, but opposition websites claim the Asad regime murdered him for opposing the killing of civilians. While the timing of the death fuels conspiracy theorists, the hardline policy remains in place. If Mahmoud was replaced for opposing the crackdown, then the Asad regime will have taken the first giant step towards unraveling. The report that Mahmoud was murdered, however, remains unconfirmed.

Syria-Turkey: Syria will not stop targeting armed terrorist groups in order to protect the nation's stability or the citizens' security. That is the message President Bashar al Asad "stressed" during a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other officials.

Al Asad said Syria is determined to proceed with comprehensive reforms and is open to any assistance provided by other countries. Davutoglu emphasized Turkey's concern regarding Syria's stability and security. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour also attended the meeting.

Comment: Turkey's goals in intervening remain rather unclear, but it has ensured increased tension with Syria. The result of Arab, Turk and Western pressure on Syria, thus far, is to drive it more firmly into the Iranian sphere of influence. Unless some outside party wants to arm the Syrian opposition and convert Syria into another Libya, the Baathist/Alawite regime will survive as long as it remains united.

No party seems to have the fortitude for doing anything more than nattering and finger waving. That is probably because Syria has a real army about 20 times larger than Libya's and all likely replacements for the Asad regime are bad for regional stability, US interests and for Israeli security.

UK: Comment. The role of cell phones in enabling British riots parallels its role in the initial stages of Arab uprisings. Curious, what.

End of NightWatch for 9 August.

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